Dezeen's "50 inspirational female architects” list met with critique

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Recently, I was mentioned by Dezeen Magazine in a list of ”50 inspirational female architects” - as part of the annual celebration of International Women’s Day. The good news is that there appears to be space for as much as 50 women on a global scale. The bad news is that it only occurs once a year.

In 2016, more than half of the students at the Danish architecture schools were women. The same goes for most schools abroad and this has been the case for quite some time. Women are also the majority workforce in many architecture firms – though not at a top-managerial level. However, recent salary statistics reveal that a majority of female architects earn more than 244 DKK an hour, whereas most male architects earn more than 266 DKK an hour (somehow men produce an extra 22 DKKs worth of architecture an hour).

Despite a large number of women in the architecture business, one of the questions most frequently asked of me – by people from both inside and outside the business – is "So which one are you?" Meaning: which of the two or maximum three female architects, that seem to make up the field of female architects in Denmark in the mind of the person asking, am I?

The exclusive little group consisting of 2-3 female architects that seem to be causing all of this confusion are not the kind of architects that one might confuse otherwise. Our expressions as architects are not really similar. We do not even look alike physically. So, the question must be related to our gender and nothing more. I wonder if Dan Stubbergaard and Kim Herforth Nielsen and Bjarke Ingels are also constantly being mistaken for one another?

Special treatment for special people

When addressing the discrepancy between the number of female architects and the attention awarded to female architects, the compensational go-to-solution seems to be well-meaning lists naming women who, in-spite of or due to their gender, are doing well. Or special exhibitions featuring solely female architects or artists. Or enthusiastic articles and interviews about female artists, and so forth. Because women are considered special, they deserve a special list.

However, in journalism, there is a well-known test called the Jew test! If one is in doubt as to whether one is accidentally being discriminatory against a certain group of people or simply focusing on attributes that are irrelevant, the trick is to substitute the name of that characteristic and replace it with the word Jew. Due to WW2, the misuse of the word Jew still triggers a reflex in most people’s brain. It immediately sounds wrong.

Let’s give that a go then: How about a list of ”50 inspirational Jews in architecture and design”? Or would you care to visit a ”Special exhibition of Jewish sculptors.” No? Just recently, Berlingske Tidende published a well-meaning article called ”9 memorable films by female directors” – so that would be: ”9 memorable films by Jewish directors”. Sounds good?

Women are people.

There is nothing wrong with competing in the Paralympics – unless of course, you are perfectly qualified to compete in the regular Olympics. And despite all of the efforts to make female architects feel special – once a year – with special lists, the result is quite the opposite. A distinct feeling of not being special.

However well-meant, one cannot help but wonder if all of these magazines, galleries, and medias might instead find a genuine and conscious way to remember to include women in their daily mentioning of art and architecture? Singling out a small group of women is just a case of misguided charity and simply does not buy atonement for forgetting about women for the remainder of the year.

Who knows, if the general public and the professional world of architects were reminded of the fact that women exist on a straight-forward and professional level alike regular people – and not as the occasional exception to the rule – then maybe, just maybe, the Danish world of architecture could find mental space for more than two women?

Read the full article in Politiken here (in Danish)